Stress Free Holidays

How To Cope With Holiday Stress

It’s that time of year again. Christmas songs are playing on the radio. decorations are up. and the pressure is on to begin (or finish) your gift shopping. Christmas, our favorite time of year. Tis the season to feel stressful fa-la-la-la-la, la-la, la, la. How can our memories of Christmas be so joyful and warm while our holiday reality seems so packed with things to do and obligations to keep?

Our memories from childhood are of a wondrous time. Everyone was happy, anticipation was in the air, and on Christmas morning we woke up to presents underneath the tree. What could be more magical? As adults, most of us seem to enjoy the holiday, but the preparation can be overwhelming. When we were children, our parents took care of everything. All we had to do was show up and enjoy. Now, it is all our responsibility. With today’s fast paced society, we end up doing too much, whether we want to or not. What is the answer?

We seem to think that if we buy all the perfect gifts, make the tastiest foods, and have the most festive decorations, we will somehow create the magic we remember. We make ourselves crazy trying to live up to expectations and re-create something that is just not possible. Pretty soon all we have created is exhaustion, stress, and hurt feelings. We have lost sight of the fact that the very thing we want the most, the feelings of joy and happiness, come from those around us. It comes from the feelings of love and connection, not from having the perfect gift, decorations or food. Sure, all those things are important, but not nearly as important as enjoying our family and friends.

Since we cannot recreate the Christmas of our past, how do we get back those magical feeling of wonder, warmth, and joy? How do we recreate the feelings of closeness and love of family that make this such a special holiday? We take the pressure off ourselves by realizing that no man is an island. It is the people in our life that make the holiday special. It is the connections with the people in our life, not the trappings of a perfect Christmas, that create memories. Christmas is about relationships, the relationship you have with yourself, your partner, and your family and friends. If we make our relationships our top priority, then the rest of the holiday celebration will fall naturally into place.

The Relationship with yourself

Make yourself a priority. How often do we think of ourselves during the holiday season? Sure, we may daydream about a gift we’d like or being pampered with a massage or having our house magically cleaned and readied for company. But the truth is, with all the pressure of the holidays, most of us tend to think about the tasks that need to be accomplished, not about ourselves. The first rule of the holiday season is: make yourself a priority. Flight attendants tell us to put our oxygen mask on first and then put on our children’s mask. There is a reason for that. If you do not put your mask on first, you will not be able to take care of anyone else. The same applies to our everyday life. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to take time out, even if it’s only fifteen minutes, to have a cup of hot chocolate or some tea. If you have 30 minutes, take a bubble bath, meditate, read a book, paint your toenails, listen to music, go for a walk. We all need a breather. It gives us more energy, both physically and mentally, to go forward with our lives.

Unrealistic expectations. Let go of perfection. It does not exist. No one person can do it all. With the multitude of everyday demands — job, family, partner, household chores, etc.– expecting a picture perfect holiday is recipe for disappointment. We all want to keep the family traditions alive. Flexibility is the key, whether that means purchasing a bakery pie, accepting help from others or ordering gifts online. Learn to delegate. Allow guests to help with the food and setup. Practice saying yes.

Relationship with partner

Stay connected with your partner. Set aside time for the two of you. When we are busy, we tend to push our relationship time to the bottom of the list. Yet this is when we need each other the most. Check in regularly to make sure that you are both on the same page, happy with the plans you have made.

Keep the lines of communication open. Be aware of your partner’s feelings, especially during a holiday gathering. It can sometimes be uncomfortable for your partner when stuck at a party where you know the majority of the people. You may want to create a signal to be used when your partner is feeling alone or ignored and wants your attention. This can alleviate possible conflict and hurt feelings.

Unrealistic expectations. Do not expect your partner to read your mind. This is one of the biggest problems we see in couples therapy. If you need your partner’s help with something, ask. If you would like to receive a specific gift, ask. (Note to women: having to ask or remind your partner for something, does not imply that he loves you any less.)

Relationships with Family

Make your family time count. Let it be special. Instead of watching television or playing video games, have a conversation, go for a walk, pitch in and make the family meal together. I still remember when my sister-in-law came to visit for the holidays. She pitched right in to peel potatoes while her husband helped the children set the table. It was unexpected and delightful. It became one big family project.

Unrealistic expectations. When it comes to family dynamics, things do not always go smoothly. Perhaps your parents still think of you as a child or you have a sibling that teases or puts you down. Maybe your hope is that this year will be different. We will let you in on a little secret: your family will most likely be the same as they were the last time you saw them. Don’t expect anyone to be different. Expect them to be the same. You can act differently by recognizing this is only their opinion, which you do not have to accept.

Do not travel out of guilt. Trying to satisfy the needs of multiple families is difficult at best. Although physically possible, it is emotionally draining. Decide with your partner what you would like to do, let your family know, and then stick to it. One possibility is doing holiday activities earlier in the season. Another is starting your own family traditions.

Finances can be another source of stress. If this is the case for you, set a spending limit for travel, entertainment, decorations and gift giving. You might consider doing a grab bag, making gifts, creating coupons for services (e.g.: baby-sitting, house cleaning, etc.) or even a family play day. Feel free to add to the list.

Remember, the holidays are about relationships and being with the ones you love. Take care of yourself and your other relationships, for a happy, joy-filled holiday season.

This article, written by Marilyn and Chuck, is reprinted from Portland’s Natural Awakening Magazine. Copyright © 2005 the Relationship Specialists, Inc. All rights reserved